Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP speaks at TURC Fringe Event at Conservative Party Conference – Local Government Pilgrims Face the Axe

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2012
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Maude Reforms to be recommended across Local Government

 

 

Eric Pickles has just announced that Frankie Maude’s reforms to Whitehall Pilgrims are to be recommended across all local government. Speaking as the first ever Cabinet minister to address the fringe Freedom Zone, Pickles highlighted a poster found in his department as an example of just why taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be going to unions:

“I don’t mind the idea, I like the tumble of politics. I even like idea of trade unions – my family were all trade unionists. But what they did, is they paid for it themselves.”

Fox joined in the fight, with a rousing bashing of the principle that the taxpayer should ever pick up the tab for a public sector worker not to do their job.The clock is ticking. It is the Pilgrims’ eleventh hour….

To read the full article on Guy Fawkes’ blog click here

Mark Clarke: Francis Maude’s union crackdown is a good start but a concerted push across government is needed

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2012
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Francis Maude’s long-awaited clampdown on the abuse of taxpayers’ money by trade unions is underway. To be fair, he has made a formidable start. Firstly, he has forensically uncovered the scale of abuse across the civil service. Not content with the first answer he received, he asked again and again what was going on. Every time he asked, he uncovered a larger and larger number of civil servants moonlighting from their jobs as trade union activists. He also uncovered scandals beyond even the worse ruminations of Conservative activists, such as the fact that some full time trade union activists had been promoted in the civil service pay grade while doing nothing more that trade union activity.

The fact that Labour entered into a faustian pact with the unions and allowed, even encouraged, this abuse should be hung around their neck each and every time we talk about the wasteful years of their rule.

The even more remarkable part of Francis Maude’s achievement is that he had to achieve this from a standing start. The Conservatives were caught on the hop by this issue and were largely unaware of the spread of the union movement during the years we were in opposition. As a result, we had nothing in our manifesto and no clear point of view. It is testament to the campaigning of the broader conservative movement in the form of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Trade Union Reform Campaign, ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes and many backbench MPs that this issue has been fully exposed and forced onto the agenda.

However, that still means that many areas remain untouched. Firstly, the changes that Francis Maude is making essentially relate to HR practices. They can easily be reversed by a Labour government unless we change the flawed legislation which underpins them – something called for by Jesse Norman and Aidan Burley in Parliament and supported by the majority of backbench MPs. Secondly, the broader range of support given to trade unions remains untouched – the free offices, noticeboards and subscriptions being deducted at source by the government payroll department. These hidden subsidies must end. Thirdly, the reforms are not yet extended into those arms of government beyond the civil service. We will still have teachers not teaching and nurses not nursing on the same scale without further reforms. Remember, for all the good of today, nothing in the Maude announcement would have had any effect on the eponymous Jane Pilgrim.Francis Maude’s diligence has uncovered scandalous abuses and he has made progress in ending them. Michael Gove has made a start and Eric Pickles has been beating the drum on this issue for some time. We now need a concerted push across the public sector on this issue – especially from the Department of Health. The next Conservative Party manifesto must contain detailed proposals for comprehensive reform across the public sector.

 

Mark Clarke is the Chief Executive of the Trade Union Reform Campaign. He was previously the candidate in Tooting, during which campaign he exposed full-time trade unionist Jane Pilgrim, who gave her name to the trade union “Pilgrims”. Follow Mark on Twitter.

To see the article in full on Conservativehome click here

“We’re all in it together–except the unions” – Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP speaks at the TURC Fringe Event

Posted by Admin on October 11, 2012
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         ”We’re all in it together–except the unions” 

For us, today, we will have to give voters some bad news. In an era of belt tightening not everyone is feeling the pinch.

In an era of public spending cutbacks not all of the public sector is making its fair share of cuts.

In an era of austerity there are those who regard themselves as too important to make a contribution.

And I refer, of course, not to the much maligned bankers, or to the mansion owners – so offensive to the Lib Dems – but to one of the most protected groups in our society, who are the trade unions.

Let me give you a specific example.  Eric referred to what we got when we returned to office. At the Ministry of Defence in our first year of government, 2010-2011, we had to make some very difficult and painful decisions because of the financial catastrophe left behind by Labour – both in the Department and in the country more generally.  Allowances were reviewed, spending programs cut back and both military and civilian numbers were sadly reduced.

Yet in the same year, in this one department, 423 civil servants carried out what they called “trade union responsibilities” at a cost to the taxpayer, and the MoD budget, of £3.9 million. This is an absolute disgrace. That money could have been spent on improving service accommodation or allowances or manpower. It was instead spent on trade union officials who – and wait for this – unbelievably have the right to e-mail every single person involved in the MoD. My own Special Advisers and my own Private Office were receiving e-mails from the unions telling us how wicked our own policies were and why they should be resisted.

How widely was this experience replicated across government and what is this costing across the whole of Government today?

The picture may actually be worse than appears at face value since the Facility Time allocations – the delightfully obtuse name for official trade union activities — is based on full departmental headcounts not the union membership within a department.  For example, the PCS website claims that there are “more than 55,000 members” within Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HM RC). Yet, elsewhere on their website they explain that the HM RC Facility Time allocation for the current year is being based on the departmental headcount of 75,456.  In other words, they base their calculations for their union time – and ultimately public remuneration – on a 40% exaggeration of the actual number of members they actually serve.

The situation is intolerable and it must be changed.  Why, I ask you, should anyone in the public sector get paid time off for union activities at all?  The trade unions are not poor.  They are perfectly capable of building up a £100 million war chest for strike funds or giving £10 million a year to the Labour Party to prevent it going bankrupt.  Why is it that they alone should continue to receive free offices from which to conduct their business with the rent paid for by the taxpayer?  Why should their union subs be deducted by payroll at source, again paid for by the taxpayer and at no cost to the unions themselves?  Why is it, when everyone else is making sacrifices, that they should regard themselves as untouchable?

This week, the government announcement, with Francis Maude, made some very welcomed reforms to the unions.  It is a useful start — but is it enough?  For the reforms being set out refer to central government alone.  Wouldn’t it be right and proper to extend these reforms to the whole of the public sector — to local government, as Eric said; to the National Health Service; to schools and all other services?

Why should those who are struggling to make budgets stretch be asked to carry the additional burden of the union activists who should be paying for themselves?  And just who, we may ask ourselves, is carrying out the necessary employment activity while they are engaged in their political activism?  If the answer is that their job is being done by someone else it is legitimate to question whether they are required there at all in the first place.

I congratulate TURC for getting this issue onto the public agenda.  When we are asking the public to cut back for the sake of our national finances it is outrageous to have backdoor funding for the Labour Party — the ones who got us into this economic mess — at the expense of hard-pressed taxpayers.  When Parliament returns we shall be looking for ways to ensure that this utterly unacceptable situation is brought to an end. We will look for legislative opportunities to ensure that the sort of abuses I have just outlined are stopped, not just in Whitehall, but across our public services as a whole.

The trade unions have a perfect right to carry out their activities on behalf of their members but the cost should be carried by their members not by the general public. What we seek is fair and reasonable and overdue. We will no doubt face – let’s make no bones about it – the full spite and wrath of their political activists just as we did in the 1980s. It must not stop our resolve on behalf of those who currently foot the bill.

I hope we will have your full support in that project.

TURC submission to Goverment Consultation

Posted by Admin on September 07, 2012
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Firstly, can I thank you on behalf of the Trade Union Reform Campaign for consulting on reforming Trade Union Facility time. As you are aware TURC has been campaigning on time issue ever since we uncovered the actions of “Nurse” Jane Pilgrim who was a fulltime activist paid for by St Georges’ Hospital in Tooting. We are delighted that so many Members of Parliament have joined our advisory council because they too are so concerned about this issue.

Whilst you have invited responses only from Trade Unions themselves we felt it was important for you to have the fullest possible information at your disposal and would be grateful if you would consider the following submission.

Reporting and benchmarking

In the consultation document it is suggested that the Government publish all facility time and create benchmarks to ensure some consistency throughout Whitehall.

We welcome the acceptance of the need for transparency, but we believe that this can only an interim measure. We would encourage the Government to implement this step only in order to assist in making the case to the public for abolition. Transparency is a means not an end however it is a step in the right direction.

On the issue of benchmarking, ACAS guidelines say it is good practice for formal facility time agreements to be in place. We have yet to find any public body with such formal guidelines. This should be mandated and published. That way management will have their decisions on employing pilgrims open to public scrutiny and the public can hold pilgrims to account.

Limiting 100% facility time representatives

In the consultation document it is suggested that the Government end the practice of employing full time Trade Union Representatives. However, this implies that the Government might be content to see people spending 50% of their time on paid union duties.

Recently Rachel Reeves MP (Lab, Leeds West), asked what the practical difference was between one person spending all their time on Union work and two people spending 50% of their time. The cost to the taxpayer is the same and we risk going round in circles. Abolition represents best value for the taxpayer and avoids the risk of the time they take creeping up again once the issue is out of the headlines.

We maintain that abolition removes any ambiguity and polling data suggests 86% of the public share our view.
Reviewing paid time off for activities

The existing legislation draws a distinction between trade union “activities” which cannot be funded and “duties” which can be funded. The consultation exposes that a great deal of so called “activities” are going on. There is no legal justification for this and it must stop. The Consultation proposes some sensible ways in which this might be done.

However, we should go further. The trade unions have clearly been abusing their position and have had workers doing trade union activity to which they were not entitled. We wish to see a full audit of such arrangements over the last ten years and a bill given to the respective trade unions for this state employee moonlighting in which they have been apparently complicit. Where individuals have engaged in such activity with no management approval we expect to see the same sort of disciplinary proceedings which any moonlighting worker would expect.

Reduction in overall facility time and ensuring appropriate use of facilities across the Civil Service

This is really the crux of the proposal — to use the benchmarks and transparency to drill down on the amount of paid time taken. A good start would be an interim commitment to using the private sector as a benchmark – this would see facility time fall by 75%.

The consultation proposes a case by case review of what office space, phones, photocopiers and other facilities are being provided to the Unions.

Our view remains that Trade Unions have offices and budgets so they should either use their own offices or pay a fair rent public buildings. There is no reason why they need this ‘in kind’ subsidy, and we can see no justification for the taxpayer providing it. The consultation offers a good opportunity for these indirect subsidies to the trade union movement to be exposed.

What’s missing?

• There is no commitment to end facility time. It is surely immoral to be paying nurses not to nurse and teachers not to teach. We urge the Government to have the courage to state plainly that people should do the jobs for which they were employed and not be paid to do a different job for some other organisation.

• There is no commitment to end the practice which sees union dues docked at source by Government payroll departments. This is a huge indirect subsidy which sees Government acting as a free membership departments for the unions. This subsidy should end or, at the very least, be charged a commercial rate.

• The consultation only covers the civil service. However, our research has shown that the real abuse occurs in schools, the NHS and local Government. After all the infamous Jane Pilgrim was supposedly a nurse — except she wasn’t nursing. Eric Pickles is making sterling strides in the DCLG on this subject. But we now need the health and education departments to follow the lead of the DCLG and Cabinet Office in exposing this practice in the full knowledge that the more the public see, the less they will like.

In general we think it is important to bear in mind that the Prime Minister said that fulltime Trade Union Officials funded by the taxpayer “cannot be justified morally or economically”. Also the issue has been subject to a number of Parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motions and Debates in the House of Commons. We believe this shows the level of anger amongst MPs and the general public about this large state subsidy to the Unions and we urge the Government to act.

TURC welcomes “pilgrim” clampdown

Posted by Admin on July 13, 2012
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The Trade Union Reform Campaign has welcomed the Governments announcement that they are to consult on ending the practice of the paying Trade Unionists through public funds. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has estimated that this subsidy costs central government £36m a year, with at least 6800 union reps benefiting, 250 of them full time.

The minister said changes were “urgently” needed to the arrangements, to reflect modern working practices.

“We believe that trade unions play an important role in the modern workplace, but it’s time to redress the balance between supporting effective engagement with employee representatives and providing better value for the taxpayer.

“In the civil service alone tens of millions of pounds are spent on trade union facility time and across the public sector that figure is much higher.

“It isn’t right that taxpayers are funding full-time union representatives who haven’t done a civil service job in years.

“For too long, trade union facility time and paid-time off for union work on health and safety and other activities was poorly monitored and inadequately controlled. That’s why we want to ensure that the civil service has in place the same controls and monitoring that the best private businesses have.”

Chief Executive, Mark Clarke said: “In a time of austerity it is vital that we stop wasting taxpayers money on Trade Union Officials who contribute nothing to public services. The public are appalled by these subsidies to the Trade Unions and I’m delighted the government is starting to act.”

Civil servants who work for unions cost £36m a year

Posted by Admin on July 09, 2012
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Civil servants who work for unions when they are in the office are costing the taxpayer £36million a year, new figures show.

Ministers will unveil a consultation on how to cut down on so-called ‘facility time’ with the public service unions towards the end of next week.
A cross-Whitehall study ordered by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude found 248 trade union representatives who spent all of their paid time on union business.

Overall the survey estimated there are at least 6,800 part-time civil servants who do trade union work across the civil service – far more than previously thought.
Estimates suggest the annual cost to the taxpayer is £36million – the equivalent of the salary of over 900 nurses or the cost of over 10,000 primary school places.
Previous estimates have put the cost of the time when the official was not working for the taxpayer at £23million.

The pledge to find out how many full time union officials there are in Whitehall was made in an interview Mr Maude gave to The Daily Telegraph last September.
He said in the interview on Sept 10 that he wanted plans to introduce “sensible” levels of union working.
A Government source said: “This information was never available before and, unsurprisingly, initial estimates understated the case. No doubt Labour didn’t want to antagonise their union paymasters by monitoring union activity properly.

“It’s simply wrong that taxpayers are paying Civil Servants to spend years doing nothing but union activity instead of the jobs they are supposed to do.”
Aidan Burley MP, founder of the Trade Union Reform Campaign, added: “This is an astonishing figure which finally lays bare the taxpayer subsidy to the trade unions. “The PM has said that this cannot be justified morally or economically.
“Now is the time for ministers to change the law in the coming months to end this shocking state subsidy of trade unions.”

Mr Maude said at last year’s Conservative party conference that that there would be a consultation on limiting the time civil servants can spend on trade union work.
At the Conservative Party Conference Francis Maude announced that there would be a consultation on limiting the time civil servants can spend on trade union work.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said that “facility time” covered important areas of human resources policy in Whitehall such as negotiations with employers on pay and working conditions.
He said: “Reps are expressly not allowed to use it for any other purpose – for example, discussing anything related to industrial action. All of this is done in their own time.”
The PCS said facility time accounted for just 0.2 per cent of staff time across the civil service, adding that “we estimate that our reps spend about half of their allotted hours in negotiations with managers on issues that used to be handled at a national level”.

The full article by Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent for The Telegraph can be found here

The Daily Express ‘TAXPAYERS’ £36M BILL FOR UNIONS’

Posted by Admin on July 09, 2012
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TAXPAYERS are funding the salaries of trade union activists in the civil service to the tune of £36million a year, Whitehall figures showed last night.

At least 6,800 civil servants are being paid from public funds to cover working hours on union duties. Much of their time has been spent fighting the Government’s drive to cut costs at Whitehall.

An investigation found 248 civil servants work full-time on union business while being paid from public funds – 100 more than previously thought. Thousands more work part-time on union duties.

The probe was ordered by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude following concern at the spiralling cost. The £36million could fund the wages of 900 nurses.

Mark Clarke, of the Trade Union Reform Campaign, said: “Hard-working families will be disgusted to learn how far these unions have their snouts in the trough.”

The article from July 4th can be found online here

Bradford Conservatives push to end spending £500,000 of Council Taxpayers money on union reps

Posted by Admin on July 07, 2012
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As I reported last week new rules have been brought in which many councillors must declare financial backing from trade unions. One of the implications is that those with a prejudicial interest would not be able to vote on the issue of “trade union facility time” – the “pilgrims” paid by the council but working for the unions.

One of the early tests is likely to be Bradford.

Cllr Glen Miller, Leader of the Conservative Group says:

“My colleagues and I are particularly pleased that the Local Government Minister, Bob Neill is requiring councillors to declare any financial support that they receive, including contributions towards their election expenses etc from the trade unions.

“As the people of Bradford District are likely to be aware, the Conservative Group on Bradford Council has long been arguing that the council should not be spending in excess of £500,000 per year on subsidising the wages of union employees representing council staff. The council staff all pay union subs, which should cover the wages of the union reps, but for some reason Labour Councillors refuse to recognise this fact and protect the union funding regardless of which libraries or swimming pools are sold to deliver “essential savings”.

“I and many others wonder whether the fact that much of this “union” money ends up in Labour Party coffers, may have anything to do with it. It will be interesting to see how many Labour Councillors, who refuse to see the funding levels to council trade unions brought in line with what trade unions representing employees in the private sector, are bankrolled by them. I would not be in the slightest surprised if all 44 Labour Councillors have to declare an interest with one union or another. This appalling financial conflict of interest must be brought to an end without delay.

He adds:

“It will be interesting to see if there are as many Labour Party leaflets circulating the Bradford District when the gold plating of facility time is removed and when the effects of the need to declare union political donations takes effect. The taxpayer should be confident that their money is not in-directing paying for party political campaigns and I call on the new Labour Leader, Councillor Dave Green, to show strong leadership and remove the gold plated facility time provisions without waiting for Eric Pickles, a former Leader of Bradford Council to force him”.

The article can be found here.

Councillors with union financial interests will be excluded from voting on pilgrim pay

Posted by Admin on July 06, 2012
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More good news for transparency in our Town Halls. The Department for Communities and Local Government is issuing new rules, which come into effect from 1 July, making a legal requirement for councillors to declare payments and payments in kind from trade unions. Failure to do so will potentially be a criminal offence.

If a councillor has a financial interest in a company which is seeking planning permission, or a licensing application or putting in a tender, then they are not allowed to vote. It follows that if they have a financial benefit from a trade union then they have a conflict of interest in deciding if their council should give that union financial support. A prejudicial interest would not only cover being employed by a trade union but also having a trade union pay for the councillor election campaigning.

Francis Maude will shortly be publishing a policy paper proposing to scale back so-called ‘facility time’ in the Civil Service back to private sector levels – rather than gold-plating legal requirements. The Department for Communities and Local Government will follow through in due course with guidance to councils, giving them legal assurance and practical help on how they can review and cut back both facility time and the provision of subsidies like free office facilities.

There will also be guidance on what is a reasonable charge for councils to collect trade union membership subscriptions – if they should be doing so at all which seems entirely inappropriate.

This could make for some interesting debates at full council meetings. There could be Labour councils which face losing a vote on the issue from the Conservative opposition as frequently Labour councillors will be disqualified from voting.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill said;

“Why should the unions be allowed to secretly fund the councillors who will be making decisions on hiring and firing trade union ‘pilgrims’ in town halls.”

“It’s important that we have maximum transparency and accountability when it comes to financial and union interests in councils.These reforms will give local people the confidence that councillors are
putting their residents’ interests first.”

The article can be found here on Conservativehome

TURC Chairman Aidan Burley MP asks question to Secretary of State Eric Pickles

Posted by Admin on July 06, 2012
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Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase, Conservative)
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement last Thursday that he will change the law in order to require councillors to declare union support and donations as pecuniary and therefore prejudicial interests. Did he receive representations from the Labour Front-Bench team against these proposals when the statutory instrument came in this month? If not, would their union paymasters be justified in thinking them asleep on the job?

Eric Pickles (Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Brentwood and Ongar, Conservative)
This matter—not whether Labour has been asleep on the job but the amount of union involvement with councillors—is of enormous concern. We are taking the moderate and reasonable approach of saying, “We support unions and it is wonderful that they support the Labour party, but we would like to know and it should be a matter for public disclosure.” Given that it is so uncontroversial, I am sure it will receive support throughout the House.

Full list of the Topical Questions raised on July 2nd can be found here